Unbewitching as therapy



Contrary to the view in Anglo-Saxon social anthropology that European rural witchcraft has disappeared, I show that it still exists and thrives in many places. On the basis of fieldwork in the Bocage of western France (1968–1971), I develop an analysis of witchcraft as a symbolic system producing specific social and psychological effects. Under the cover of ritual activity, an unbewitcher embarks on a therapy aimed at helping bewitched farmers handle indirect violence. The bewitched farmer also receives invisible therapeutic support from his wife. The bewitched farmer has been unable to handle both the legally permitted violence against his relatives enabling him to accede to the status of head of farm, and the aggressiveness necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. Thus witchcraft accusations against “neighbors” (with whom nothing is at stake), as opposed to relatives (with whom hatreds and conflicts are endemic) are not to be seen as a social strain-gauge. Bocage witchcraft, like all therapies, should be classified under a new category of remedial institutions. [witchcraft, France (Bocage), therapy, agriculture, women, conflict, ritual]